Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season eight premiere.
Imagine a massive blaze has engulfed your neighbor’s house and the flames are about to spread to your house. Fortunately your brother, the one who kept warning your family to buy smoke detectors and extinguishers, shows up with two fire trucks and dozens of firemen. In that moment would you thank him for coming to you rescue, or would you complain he doesn’t own the trucks himself while saying you don’t like the fire chief? It’s obviously an absurd hypothetical. Even if you were upset with your brother over literally anything, you wouldn’t worry about it if a fire raged and your life were in danger.
So why, when the White Walkers threaten the lives of everyone in the world, are Jon Snow’s sisters and the other lords at Winterfell more upset he bent the knee to Daenerys than they are happy he brought them two dragons and an army? It was the most frustrating issue from the Game of Thrones season eight premiere. It was already a rushed episode and its urgency wasn’t matched by the characters in it. But it also raises an important question for the show’s final year: do the living deserve to win?
Sansa Stark, Lyanna Mormont, and every other person alive won’t have to worry about who rules them if the Night King kills everyone. That seems so obvious and pressing. It’s insane after seven seasons, countless wars and deaths, and (what appeared to be) acceptance of the White Walker threat, that people are still arguing over who is king or queen. Are there reasons for Northern lords and the Knights of the Vale to be wary of the Mad King’s daughter? Of course. It’s also not crazy that Sansa is frustrated with her brother for giving up his crown without consulting her. Especially when she’s clearly smarter than almost anyone else. (She saw right through Cersei’s promise of sending an army to help, something even Tyrion wasn’t bright enough to realize.) But none of that matters so long as an army of the dead is on the march.
Jon Snow did not ask to be named king. He left Winterfell with one goal: to find allies so he could save the world. Those who crowned him trusted him to protect them, and he brought them back the most powerful weapons in the world to do just that. Bending the knee to the woman who owns those weapons seems like a small price to pay.
Sansa said she actually does trust Jon’s judgement, but she questioned if his motives are totally pure. He possibly named Daenerys his queen more out of personal love. But even if he did – and it’s debatable – who cares? The Night King isn’t worried if someone is King in the North, Queen, Khaleesi, or sits on the Iron Throne. He’s coming for every living person, and it will be easier to kill them all if they aren’t united. As Tyrion said, “We must fight together now. Or die.”
Even Sam, in the middle of upending Jon’s very existence by telling him the truth about his father, took that moment to also question if Jon should rule over Daenerys. Would Jon have burned Sam’s father and brother the way Daenerys did Randyll and Dickon Tarly? Maybe, maybe not. That’s a question better left for after/if they defeat the hoard of ice demons coming to kill them all. When Sam is worried about the same thing as Cersei, something is wrong.
Now, in fairness to the other Starks and their angry bannermen, it’s easier for Tyrion to talk of unity when Jon bent the knee to his queen. So what is Daenerys willing to do if Sansa and the North won’t accept her as queen? Would she be willing to bend the knee to Jon/Aegon to unite everyone? To save the world? If that’s what it takes and she’s not willing, she’s no better than any of the people who don’t want her as queen.
All of the pettiness over titles and who’s bending a knee to whom was made worse by the pace of the show. There was a clear dissonance between how fast scenes played out and how carelessly everyone is treating the existential danger closing in on them. This season eight premiere didn’t have ravens and dragons traveling at light speed like in season seven, but the episode still felt rushed the same way. It wanted to get all of the necessary conversations, reunions, and revelations out of the way as quickly as possible, because the looming Battle of Winterfell is what matters.
If only the people at Winterfell felt the same way, instead of worrying about the same old meaningless fight over who sits on an ugly chair that has left them so vulnerable in the first place.
And once again we ask: do the living deserve to win? When you can’t be bothered to put aside your personal enmity and anger for the sake of every living thing in the world, are you worth rooting for? Do people that can’t do what it takes to save themselves deserve salvation?
The Night King probably doesn’t deserve to win, but it’s not clear the living do either. Maybe we should root for a fire to destroy them all.
For a quick refresher on all of Game of Thrones lore, check out our Histories of Thrones!